Happy new year!
With 2023 coming in like a tidal wave, it only seem fitting that the first scene that I love for this year should come from 1972’s The Poseidon Adventure. Just as how Die Hard has recently been acclaimed as one of the great Christmas films, The Poseidon Adventures is one of the best of the New Year’s Day films. It’s also perhaps the only film in which Gene Hackman managed to overact more than even Ernest Borgnine. I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s a strong competition between two great actors, neither of whom was known for being particularly subtle when it came to barking out their lines. But, in the end, Hackman still managed to take the overacting crown for this film.
(That said, what’s New Year’s Day without Borgnine shouting, “Where’s your God now, Preach-ah!?”)
In the scene below, the passengers ring in the new year while Leslie Nielsen faces the tidal wave that will soon turn the boat upside down. Whatever else you may want to say about this particular film, it does a great job of contrasting the celebrations in the ballroom with the dread on the bridge. While everyone else is counting down and celebrating and mugging for the camera, Nielsen can only stare in stoic horror as the wave approaches. He does the only thing that a captain can do. He sounds the alarm. He sends out an S.O.S. Unfortunately, the alarm can barely be hard over the celebrations of the new year and the S.O.S. man is quickly swept away by the crashing of the wave.
The scene goes from celebrating the future to highlighting the type of old-fashioned, nature-fueled destruction that has been wiping out civilizations since the beginning of time. It doesn’t matter how many plans you’ve made. It doesn’t matter how rich you are. It doesn’t matter how safe you feel or how much you cling to the furniture as the world turns upside down. Fate, whether it’s in the form of a wave or some other natural disaster, is pitiless. That’s one reason why disaster movies, as melodramatic as they could often be, so entranced audiences. Everyone knew that it would just as easily happen to them. Just as no one expected the tidal wave on New Year’s, no one would be expecting to leave the theater to be confronted by an earthquake or a tornado. But it could definitely happen. Life, like society, is a fragile thing. If not even Gene Hackman, Stella Stevens, Shelley Winters, and Roddy McDowall could make it to the end of the movie, what hope is there for anyone? Of course, the thing to remember is that they may not have made it but Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Carol Lynley, and a few others did. They survived, though I imagine they spent the rest of their lives dreading January 1st.
Needless to say, neither the passage of time nor the wave can be escaped. As much as we may have things left to do in 2022, it’s too late now. 2023 is here and the world has moved on.
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